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A Comparison of Upward and Downward Intergenerational Mobility in Canada, Sweden and the United States

  • Corak, Miles
  • Lindquist, Matthew

    (Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University)

  • Mazumder., Bhashkar

We use new estimators of directional rank mobility developed by Bhattacharya and Mazumder (2011) to compare rates of upward and downward intergenerational mobility across three countries: Canada, Sweden and the United States. These measures overcome some of the limitations of traditional measures of intergenerational mobility such as the intergenerational elasticity, which are not well suited for analyzing directional movements or for examining differences in mobility across the income distribution. Data for each country include highly comparable, administrative data sources containing sufficiently long time spans of earnings. Our most basic measures of directional mobility, which simply compare whether sons moved up or down in the earnings distribution relative to their fathers, do not differ much across the countries. However, we do find that there are clear differences in the extent of the movement. We find larger cross-country differences in downward mobility from the top of the distribution than upward mobility from the bottom. Canada has the most downward mobility while the U.S. has the least, with Sweden in the middle. We find some differences in upward mobility but these are somewhat smaller in magnitude. An important caveat is that our analysis may be sensitive to the concept of income we use and broader measures such as family income could lead to different conclusions. Also, small differences in rank mobility translate into rather large differences in absolute mobility measured in dollars, due to large differences in income inequality across countries.

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Paper provided by Swedish Institute for Social Research in its series Working Paper Series with number 5/2014.

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Length: 40 pages
Date of creation: 26 Mar 2014
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hhs:sofiwp:2014_005
Contact details of provider: Postal: SOFI, Stockholm University, SE-10691 Stockholm, Sweden
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Web page: http://www.sofi.su.se/

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  1. Jeff Larrimore & Richard V. Burkhauser & Shuaizhang Feng & Laura Zayatz, 2008. "Consistent Cell Means for Topcoded Incomes in the Public Use March CPS (1976-2007)," NBER Working Papers 13941, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Sandra E. Black & Paul J. Devereux, 2010. "Recent Developments in Intergenerational Mobility," NBER Working Papers 15889, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Bhashkar Mazumder, 2005. "Fortunate Sons: New Estimates of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States Using Social Security Earnings Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(2), pages 235-255, May.
  4. Mazumder, Bhashkar, 2014. "Black–White Differences in Intergenerational Economic Mobility in the U.S," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q I, pages 1-18.
  5. O’NEILL, Donal & SWEETMAN, Olive & VAN DE GAER, Dirk, . "The effects of measurement error and omitted variables when using transition matrices to measure intergenerational mobility," CORE Discussion Papers RP -1962, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  6. Miles Corak & Andrew Heisz, 1999. "The Intergenerational Earnings and Income Mobility of Canadian Men: Evidence from Longitudinal Income Tax Data," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(3), pages 504-533.
  7. Bhashkar Mazumder, 2001. "The mis-measurement of permanent earnings: new evidence from Social Security earnings data," Working Paper Series WP-01-24, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  8. Philip Oreopoulos & Marianne Page & Ann Huff Stevens, 2008. "The Intergenerational Effects of Worker Displacement," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(3), pages 455-483, 07.
  9. Bernt Bratsberg & Knut Røed & Oddbjørn Raaum & Robin Naylor & Markus Ja�ntti & Tor Eriksson & Eva O�sterbacka, 2007. "Nonlinearities in Intergenerational Earnings Mobility: Consequences for Cross-Country Comparisons," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 117(519), pages C72-C92, 03.
  10. Jäntti, Markus & Bratsberg, Bernt & Røed, Knut & Raaum, Oddbjørn & Naylor, Robin & Österbacka, Eva & Björklund, Anders & Eriksson, Tor, 2006. "American Exceptionalism in a New Light: A Comparison of Intergenerational Earnings Mobility in the Nordic Countries, the United Kingdom and the United States," IZA Discussion Papers 1938, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  11. Corak, Miles, 2006. "Do Poor Children Become Poor Adults? Lessons from a Cross Country Comparison of Generational Earnings Mobility," IZA Discussion Papers 1993, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  12. Solon, Gary, 1992. "Intergenerational Income Mobility in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 393-408, June.
  13. Steven Haider & Gary Solon, 2006. "Life-Cycle Variation in the Association between Current and Lifetime Earnings," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(4), pages 1308-1320, September.
  14. Anders Bohlmark & Matthew J. Lindquist, 2006. "Life-Cycle Variations in the Association between Current and Lifetime Income: Replication and Extension for Sweden," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(4), pages 879-900, October.
  15. Gary Solon, 2002. "Cross-Country Differences in Intergenerational Earnings Mobility," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(3), pages 59-66, Summer.
  16. Debopam Bhattacharya & Bhashkar Mazumder, 2011. "A nonparametric analysis of black–white differences in intergenerational income mobility in the United States," Quantitative Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 2(3), pages 335-379, November.
  17. Zimmerman, David J, 1992. "Regression toward Mediocrity in Economic Stature," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 409-29, June.
  18. Bjorklund, Anders & Chadwick, Laura, 2003. "Intergenerational income mobility in permanent and separated families," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 80(2), pages 239-246, August.
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